The Power and Blessings from Prayer

Elder Wayne M. Hancock

 

Brigham Young UniversityIdaho Devotional

June 18, 2002

 

 

We are honored to be in your presence today on the campus of Brigham Young University-Idaho. My wife, Connie, commenced her college years here at Ricks College, just a few miles from her hometown of St. Anthony. Both of her parents graduated from this institution, and two of our children attended Ricks College.

We were privileged to have served with three marvelous mission presidents and their wives in the Europe East Area who are members of this faculty: John and Carol Galbraith of the Russia Novosibirsk Mission, Robert and Barbara Schwartz of the Russia Rostov a Danu Mission, and Brent and Karolyn Strong of the Slovenia Ljubljana Mission. These faithful and dynamic leaders served under challenging circumstances as do all pioneers. They truly loved their missionaries, the local members and leaders, the countries and cultures where they served, and their BYU-Idaho. Immeasurable but everlasting are the contributions they have made in these nations so recently opened to the ongoing restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

By way of introduction to the subject of my talk - the power and blessings from prayer - I would like to share with you a recent experience. Last November I received a telephone message that one of our great Utah Provo missionaries and a superb missionary leader urgently wanted to talk with his mission president. I was informed that Aaron Alley would be undergoing major brain surgery in a few days to remove a mass on his brain stem. Reportedly his survival from this complicated surgery was uncertain.

In a few moments I was able to reach Aaron's mother, Linda. She informed me that he was a second-year student at the University of Oklahoma Medical School earning straight A's. She gave me his telephone number, and soon Connie and I were talking with our beloved missionary. We then learned that the immediate surgery was intended to deal with a congenital defect whereby the brain stem extends too far down to the spinal column causing dizziness, restriction in head movements, and potential interruption of blood flow. For the time being, the abnormal brain tissue would be observed and dealt with in later surgery and radiation. The surgeons now needed to correct and realign the tilting brain stem.

As he faced this major surgery, Aaron turned to those nearest to him for counsel, encouragement, and spiritual strength. One of them questioned the intervening value of faith and prayer in his behalf, saying, "If the Lord wants you here, He will keep you here; otherwise He won't. What difference can I make?" Aaron quickly responded, "Am I going to make it, I don't know. But I do know that God will respond to people's faith and answer their prayers. You are not leaving room for the exercise of faith and the power of prayer."

The faith and prayers of those of us close to Aaron coupled with those offered in the temples of the Lord and those of various faiths in churches throughout his relatively small hometown of Woodward, Oklahoma, combined to prolong his life, enabled him to return to his medical school studies, and look unafraid to the future.

While we ponder upon Aaron Alley's confident response to his doubting friend, recall the instruction Jesus gave as recorded in the Book of Mark. As Jesus and His disciples came to Jerusalem, Peter noticed and commented about the now withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed the previous day. The Master then used this as a teaching moment:

...Have faith in God.

For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them (Mark 11:22-24).

The Angel Gabriel, when informing the startled Mary of her sacred calling that she would conceive through the power of the Holy Ghost and the Highest and be the mother of the Son of God, restated an eternal principle:

For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).

On another continent distant from Palestine, the final abridger of those records that in latter days would produce the Book of Mormon issued an assuring invitation. Moroni promised us that when we ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, and do so with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will enable us through the power of the Holy Ghost, to know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5).

Recently in a Sacrament meeting at our Las Vegas, Nevada, ward, the speaker read a cute but instructive poem from the December 28, 2001, issue of the Intermountain Farm and Ranch newsletter entitled "An Ode to Jake the Frozen Rancher." I would like to share its important message with you.

Jake the Rancher went one day to fix a distant fence.
The wind was cold and gusty, and the clouds rolled gray and dense.
As he pounded the last staples in and gathered the tools to go,
The temperature had fallen, and the snow began to blow.
When he finally reached the pickup, he felt a heavy heart.
From the sound of the ignition, he knew it wouldn't start.
Jake did what most of us would do if we would've been there;
He humbly bowed his balding head and sent aloft a prayer.
As he turned the key for the last time, he softly bemoaned his luck.
They found him three days later, frozen stiff in that old truck.
Now Jake had been around in life and done his share of roamin'.
He was shocked when he saw Heaven, it looked just like Wyomin'!
Of all the saints in Heaven, his favorite was St. Peter.
Now this line ain't much needed, but it helps with rhyme and meter.
So they sat and talked a minute, or maybe it was three.
Nobody was keepin' score; in heaven, time is free.
I've always heard," said Jake to Pete, "that God will answer prayer.
But one time when I asked for help, He just plain wasn't there."
Does God answer prayers of some and ignore the prayers of others?
That don't seem exactly fair. I know that men are brothers."
Or does he randomly reply, without good rhyme or reason?
Maybe it's the time of day, the weather, or the season?"
Now I ain't tryin' to act smart. It's just the way I feel.
I was wonderin', could you tell me what's the deal?"
Peter listened patiently and when old Jake was done,
There were smiles of recognition, and he said, "So you're the one!"
That day your truck, it wouldn't start, and you sent your prayers a flying,
You gave us a real bad time with hundreds of us trying."
A thousand angels rushed to check the status of your file,
But Jake, you know, we hadn't heard from you in quite a while."
And though all prayers are answered, and God ain't got no quota,
He didn't recognize you voice, so he started a truck in North Dakota!"
(Intermountain Farm and Ranch, 28 December 2001).

Certainly we do not want to be prayer strangers to Heavenly Father. It is essential that we keep the lines of communication to Him open and free of static if we expect Him to respond to our earnest pleadings in time of need. If we have not been praying regularly, we will likely not be capable of recognizing and hearing God's answer through the still, small voice. By consistent, frequent prayer, we learn how to dial ourselves into the finely tuned spiritual frequency through which He communicates to us.

No one of us would ever want to endure the humbling experience of the ungrateful Brother of Jared. After having granted both of his requests: first, that the language of Jared, the Brother of Jared, their families and friends, not be confounded, and second, that they be brought forth to a land choice above all the earth, the Lord waited in vain for four years to receive an expression of gratitude and communication from the Brother of Jared. The Lord then uniquely initiated a visit and for three long hours talked to and chastened the Brother of Jared "because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord" (Ether 2:14).

Then in words much stronger than Peter's admonition to Jake the frozen rancher, the Lord both comforted and warned the now repentant Brother of Jared:

...I will forgive thee and they brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin anymore, for ye shall remember that my spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of God (Ether 2:15).

What a tragedy it would be indeed if through our failure to daily utilize the gift of access to Divinity we would deprive ourselves of that access in time of need.

One day a missionary and his companion came to my office to relate a special teaching experience and daunting challenge. Upon referral of a wonderful family in Provo, they had taught the discussions to Viktoria, a foreign exchange student they said came from Russia. This remarkable family had welcomed Viktoria into their home where she was treated lovingly like the other children. At school Viktoria was introduced to their friends who likewise befriended her. Viktoria accepted the invitation to attend Church with them. Again she was embraced with inclusion and warmth. A special spirit came upon Viktoria as she experienced newly-found peace and happiness. Wanting to know the source of this happiness so evident in her friends, classmates, and the host family, Viktoria's inquiry led to meeting the missionaries and having the restored gospel of Jesus Christ unveiled to her. Enthusiastically, Viktoria accepted the invitation to be baptized.

There was a major obstacle, however, that stood in the way. Because Viktoria was under the age of 18, and, additionally, due to a provision in the foreign exchange agreement, baptism could not occur without approval of her parents. Viktoria had written a letter to them twice requesting consent to her baptism. Her parents declined each request. They did not want their daughter to be taken in by what they believed was a strange American religious cult.

The missionaries informed me that the ward members, her friends, and the missionaries were holding a special fast and prayers for Viktoria to soften the hearts of her parents so that they would permit their daughter to be baptized. I was invited to join with them and was pleased to do so. Monday morning the missionaries excitedly came to see me. Victoria had received - not a letter - but a telephone call from her father giving consent by her parents to be baptized and also wishing her a happy birthday.

We all knew that the Lord had responded to the fasting and prayers offered in behalf of Viktoria. Unbeknownst to us, we soon learned that the stake mission president in Provo had been impressed to telephone the full-time mission president where Viktoria's parents lived and inform him of the situation. He requested that the mission president send two of his best missionaries to try and meet with Viktoria's parents, tell them about the Church, and seek to resolve their concerns. The parents were so impressed with the personal appearance and message of the missionaries who came to their apartment that they agreed to her baptism and called their daughter to extend their approval. There proceeded a wonderful baptismal service.

About three years later, Connie and I were touring the Ukraine Donetsk Mission. During an evening meeting with members and visitors in the southern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, I felt impressed to tell this conversion and baptism story of Viktoria. At the conclusion of the meeting, a tall man came up to see me. He said he enjoyed hearing the story of Viktoria and thought I would like to know more. He then introduced himself as Viktoria's father. Confirming all that I had said about the positive impression made upon him and his wife by the missionaries, he then revealed further events. They were so impressed with the feelings, attitude, and happiness of their daughter when she returned home from America that they asked for the missionaries to come to their home and teach them. They too were baptized.

Then, with tears in his eyes, Viktoria's father related another amazing event that had recently occurred. The father of the host family with whom Viktoria had lived in Provo, upon learning that this good man would be receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, had traveled all the way from Provo to Dnipropetrovsk to bestow it upon Viktoria's father and ordain him an elder.

This was truly a testament to the power of faith, prayer, and fasting that brought about everlasting results for Viktoria and her family far beyond the expectations of those involved.

Many years ago I was engaged in the practice of law with a small law firm in Phoenix, Arizona. Though extremely happy and comfortable with life in Arizona and our special ward and dear Church friends, Connie and I harbored a troubling concern. How were we ever going to earn enough money to provide a college education for our then five young children? We were not earning very much and future prospects were uncertain. In this quandary of worry and consequent unhappiness, we sought for direction from Heavenly Father. For two years, Connie and I fasted and prayed each month with a specific purpose seeking inspiration and an employment opportunity to resolve our concern. At the conclusion of each fast day of supplication, we both received the same impression--be patient and it will all work out.

Sure enough, over a two-year period an incredible sequence of amazing events occurred that culminated in the uprooting of our family from the comforts of Phoenix to move across the country to Midland, Michigan, and accept a position as an attorney in The Dow Chemical Company Legal Department.

The Lord generously blessed our family both spiritually and temporally as it expanded to eight children. Abundant opportunities to serve in our developing ward and stake as well as a remarkable community permitted us to grow and contribute as valued members and citizens. During the ensuing twenty-seven years of working for Dow Chemical and living in Michigan, Switzerland, and Italy, we often reflected upon the many experiences and blessings that had transpired in our lives and knew of a surety that Heavenly Father had responded to our fervent fasting and prayers. We also knew that we had been transplanted to Michigan where the Lord wanted us to be to assist in the growth and image of the Church in Michigan.

Some of you may be familiar with the game of dominoes. You may have also seen the beautiful and interesting patterns that result when by creative arrangements and designs, hundreds of dominoes stand and then fall in programmed sequence. In our situation, all of the dominoes of discontent, fasting and prayer, patience, and unfolding of amazing events had to occur in their right sequence so that they could then fall into place and cause us to be where the Lord wanted us to be. The key domino or trigger was that we had to be sufficiently worried and unhappy in order to be prepared to accept an unanticipated relocation that we in and of ourselves would not have planned. Had we been totally happy in Phoenix, the dominoes would have remained standing and the blessings and opportunities awaiting us would have never been realized.

Several millennia prior to our humble but profound personal experience, the Lord caused his purposes to be accomplished for another family through a similar process. God wanted Joseph to be in Egypt holding a high governmental position with the Pharaoh so that he could save his family many years later from a future famine in the land of Canaan. The series of events that brought Joseph to Egypt and to the position of authority second only to Pharaoh were remarkable and replete with adversities and trials of his faith in God. Although beloved by his father, Jacob, and his mother, Rachel, Joseph was intensely hated by his ten older brothers. This did not make for ideal family relations. Most of the brothers sought to outright kill him, but did concede to accept Reuben's alternative plan that Joseph be cast into a pit to slowly die of hunger. The mercenary nature of Judah then prompted them to remove Joseph from the pit and sell him eventually into Egyptian slavery. Though at first elevated in status to a prominent position by his master, Potiphar, he was falsely accused of immoral actions by Potiphar's wife and unjustly imprisoned for several years. Nevertheless, during all of these difficult events and years, Joseph grew in faith and favor with God, his fellow men, and important Egyptian leaders. This brought him position, prosperity, and power. It also was accomplishing the purposes of the Lord. Joseph was placed in a commanding position not only to save his own immediate family from the famine, but ultimately the children of Israel, their descendants.

Undoubtedly, Joseph had prayed for freedom from the pit, from the enmity of his brethren, and from the Egyptian prison. In responding to his prayers, God did so in His own way and for His own purposes. A great lesson to learn in life is that our plans are not always God's plans.

Many centuries later in answer to the pleadings of a distraught latter-day Joseph who was languishing in an obscure Missouri prison and separated from his family, Joseph Smith was lovingly consoled and counseled by the Lord:

...know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7).

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes (D&C 121:7).

What a comforting and exhilarating message! So it is and can be with each of us if we are valiant and faithful and allow adversities and disappointments to ripen into blessings.

Though we are expected to do all that we can do in preparing for and planning our life's pursuits, we should remain flexible to allow unscheduled changes to occur in our lives so that the Lord, the Master Planner, can use us as instruments in His hands to achieve His greater purposes. Paraphrasing God's words to Moses when taken to and transfigured on an exceedingly high mountain:

...I have a work for thee...my son [or daughter] to do (Moses 1:6).

Another illustration of this principle is drawn from the dreadful experience of Abraham while in Chaldea, the land of his fathers. The priests of Pharaoh sought to take his life upon the altar by Potiphar's hill as a sacrifice to their false gods. As the priest prepared to slay him, Abraham prayed to the Lord and an angel from His presence unloosed the bands that bound Abraham. The Lord proceeded to destroy the altar and smote to death the priest of Elkenah.

Not only did the Lord save Abraham's life, but He blessed him far beyond his immediate request, as He so often does for us in our lives. Abraham was filled with a vision of the Almighty who declared He was his God and informed Abraham that he would be taken to a land of which he had no knowledge, that he would be guided by the Lord, that he would receive the priesthood, that the power of the Lord would be over him, and that through the ministry of Abraham, the Lord would be known in the earth forever (see Abraham 1:15-20).

Frequently as a mission president I had the opportunity to conduct pre-baptism interviews with those choice souls who had received and accepted all of the pre-baptism missionary discussions.

I well remember interviewing a 20-year-old young man from southern California who had moved to Cedar City, Utah. During the interview, past transgression was disclosed and discussed. We talked about the principles of repentance and the blessing of forgiveness. I inquired as to whether he felt he had been forgiven. Hesitantly he replied that he thought he had been forgiven. Upon asking him who it is that forgives us for our sins, he correctly responded, "Jesus Christ." Then I asked him if he had asked Jesus to forgive him. He frankly acknowledged not having done so. "Well, if Jesus is to grant your desire to be forgiven, don't you think you should ask Him?" I inquired. "I suppose so," was his reply. We both agreed that he needed to have a few days to take the steps needed to obtain forgiveness and feel the sweet relief that comes from completed repentance.

To assist the young man in this quest, we talked about prayer and Joseph Smith's first uttered prayer in the Sacred Grove. I pointed out the value of earnest, sincere, and concentrated prayer when offered vocally. Suggestion was made that he read from Joseph Smith's history in the Pearl of Great Price and also the account of the appearance of the resurrected Savior to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11. In particular, he was encouraged to focus upon and pray about Jesus's invitation to be baptized as he sought to achieve complete repentance and gain forgiveness from the Savior who had sacrificed His mortal life for our sins and transgressions. My young friend was anxious to follow the suggested course of action. We set a date and time a few days later for a followup visit and interview.

Soon the appointed hour arrived and we met again. I asked the young man to review with me what had transpired since our prior visit. He stated that he first had sought a quiet place to pray undisturbed. Because he lived in an apartment building with other young men, there was no quiet spot there to be found. He decided to drive a few miles up the canyon. There he located a secluded place in the woods. He sat down on a rock and proceeded to read the suggested scriptures. Then he knelt down and prayed aloud asking that Jesus Christ would forgive him and that he would feel worthily prepared to be baptized. Upon concluding his prayer, he resumed his scripture reading and prayed again. A warm feeling came over him. He strongly felt that his repentance was acceptable to the Savior, that he had been forgiven, and that he was now prepared to be baptized. I told him I shared his feelings and approved his baptism. My young friend was so happy and relieved that he had been provided the opportunity to be properly prepared for his baptism.

I concluded by having him read from Doctrine and Covenants Section 58, verses 43 and 42 in that reversed order:

By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins -- behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord, remember them no more (D&C 58:43, 42).

Emphasis was placed upon the Lord's statement that he would forgive him and forget his sins. My young friend then realized and remarked that he too must forgive himself, forget the past, and move on with his newborn life.

This young man, as it is with so many others who navigate the path of repentance to forgiveness, could personally rejoice in knowing that his pleadings had been answered by He who had invited us to:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

When the Savior was in the Garden of Gethsemane enduring the agony of drinking the bitter cup given Him by appointment from the Father and was thereby taking upon Himself the sins of the world, He admonished the sleeping Peter:

...What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:40-41; see also Mark 14:37-38; Luke 22:40, 46).

Following His institution of the ordinance of the sacrament to the Nephites in remembrance of His atoning sacrifice, the resurrected Christ instructed them in similar but warning words:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him (3 Nephi 18:15).

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith following a conference in September 1830 of the recently restored Church of Jesus Christ, the Lord succinctly repeated this exhortation:

Pray always, lest you enter into temptation and lose your reward (D&C 31:12).

Now and then a missionary or member would come to visit with me troubled with guilt. As we sought to rebuild confidence of worth in this person and give assurance of hope through the repentance process, effort was made to fortify him against any repetition of sin. A very simple preventative measure was frequently suggested. Whenever inappropriate thoughts, urges, or desires come unto one's mind, find a quiet place, kneel down and fervently pray to Father in Heaven. It is virtually impossible to entertain unclean thoughts and pursue immoral acts when on one's knees praying in the presence of God. I would offer this same counsel to you noble young people to apply not only in your personal lives, but also in your dating and courtship activities with a choice son or daughter of God.

Do not despoil your life and future and that of others by permitting temptation to deprive you of your eternal reward. Keep your thoughts and actions focused upon that sacred sealing room in the House of the Lord. There kneeling opposite your eternal sweetheart at the holy altar you will look into the eyes of each other and know that you have both come together to be sealed for time and eternity in a condition of personal purity and worthiness, having reserved yourselves for each other. There is no sweeter moment to be cherished in your entire lives. You will be forever grateful that you hearkened to the counsel of the Lord and His servants to resist and not fall prey to temptation. You will have secured and not lost your reward.

Let us now summarize these eternal prayer principles:

1.    In order to receive blessings from God we must ask Him.

2.    Faith and prayer are the keys to unlocking the vast storehouse of blessings that the Lord has prepared for each of us.

3.    Regular daily prayers empower us to be spiritually attuned to hear and understand the still small voice of Deity.

4.    The bounties of blessings that come from sincere prayer are far more extensive than we might ever imagine or anticipate.

5.    Adversities are frequently a conditioning means to sufficiently humble us and thereby permit the Lord to bring about changes in our lives to serve His greater purposes.

6.    Consistent prayer practices insulate us from deceptive seduction by Satan and draw us within the protective and directive care of our Heavenly Father.

7. Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, will respond to the pleadings of a broken heart and a contrite spirit and extend forgiving relief and hope through the matchless gift of His atoning sacrifice that washes clean and sanctifies the repentant soul.

Of these principles and the power of divinity through a living God, His Only Begotten Son, and their divine work that extends to us their greatest gift of eternal life, I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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